Friday, October 26, 2012

Playing President

President Obama’s recent interview with Rolling Stone has attracted a fair amount of attention, most of it focused on Obama’s description of Mitt Romney as a “bullshitter.” Critics have said that using such profanity in a personal attack in such a public manner is beneath the dignity of the office of the president of these United States. I agree and am not sure exactly who the president thought he was going to impress by going into the gutter. The handful of gray pony-tailed types who still read Rolling Stone and regard it is a beacon on non-conformity are surely already firmly ensconced in Obama’s camp.

There was another part of the interview where President Obama also spoke in a manner that I found less than worthy of the office. Obama and the Road Ahead:

The biggest challenge we've always had is that unlike FDR – who came into office when the economy had already bottomed out, so people understood that everything done subsequent to his election was making things better – I came in just as we were sliding. Because of the actions we took, we averted a Great Depression – but in the process, we also muddied up the political narrative, because it allowed somebody like Romney to somehow blame my policies for the mess that the previous administration created.

Muddied up the political narrative? I can’t imagine any previous occupant of the Oval Office using the word “narrative” in such a way. Presidents are politicians. And we all know that politicians are constantly seeking to define and shape narratives that help their causes. But there’s something unbecoming and unseemly about having a president of the United States talk about it in such an open and forthright manner.

Americans like to have a certain image of their president. It might not be realistic and those in the office have often failed to consistently live up to it. But even if it’s somewhat illusory we still take comfort in it especially in times of trouble. So it’s disturbing to hear President Obama talk about how he essentially regrets that things hadn’t hit bottom before he came it office because it “muddied up the narrative.” We want a president who is concerned with what he can do to improve the economy, not about how that will fit in with the timeline for his narrative.

It reminds me of earlier this year, when President Obama was asked what his biggest mistake in office had been. He explained that while his policies had been right, he hadn’t told a good story to the American people . Again, we know that presidents are going to try to tell us a story. But don’t tell us that you’re telling us a story.

The way that President Obama talks about “narratives” and “telling stories” diminishes the office of the president. It’s crass, cynical, and petty. We expect and deserve better of our president. I hope we get it soon.


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